Ministers have caved under pressure over a ‘grab’ of NHS patient data – pushing back the programme by two months.
Labour this week sounded the alarm over the plan to pool data from millions of GP records into a single database from July 1 – which has now been pushed back to September 1.
Researchers and businesses will be able to apply to view the database, which will collect information on treatments, referrals and appointments over the past 10 years, alongside other medical data.
NHS Digital insists the data will be anonymous as the collected data is coded to protect patient identities.
But it will cover sensitive issues such as domestic violence, and mental and sexual health.
Patients had until June 23 to opt out of the scheme – but this date is also expected to be pushed back after threats of legal action from campaigners.
Health Minister Jo Churchill
Just yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the plan – claiming “the vast majority of people" in England supported it.
Announcing the delay, Health minister Jo Churchill told MPs: "Data saves lives, it's as simple as that. We've seen in the pandemic, it's one of the lessons of the vaccine rollout.
"The GP data programme will strengthen this system and save lives. And patient data is, of course, owned by the patient.
"And we are absolutely determined to take people with us on this journey. We have therefore decided we will proceed with the important programme, but we will take some extra time, as we have conversed with stakeholders over the past couple of days.
"The implementation date will now be September 1, and we will use this time to talk to patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan, build a trusted research environment and ensure that data is accessed securely."
She added: "This agenda is so important because we all know here, data saves lives."
The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs penned a joint letter last month to formally express concerns about the "lack of communication with the public" over the proposals.
And this week Labour wrote to NHS Digital to demand a delay until issues around privacy have been addressed.
Shadow Public Health Minister Alex Norris said: “I echo concerns from across the health sector that the lack of transparency on which organisations can access this personal data is deeply concerning.
"Patients need to be made fully aware of which of their data is available for access and by whom, and so I have written to NHS Digital asking them to pause their upcoming GP data collection until these questions are resolved.”
Defending the plan yesterday, Mr Hancock told the Commons: “Data about his or my or anybody else's medical condition doesn't belong to any GP it belongs rightly to the citizen, it belongs to the patient, that's the approach that we should take.
"And I absolutely agree with him that it's important to do these things right and properly but I'm also very glad that the vast majority of people are strongly onside for the use of their data to improve lives and save lives and that's the approach that we're going to take in building a modern data platform for the NHS.
"So that we can make sure we use all of this modern asset to improve individuals' care and to improve research and therefore all of our care while of course preserving the highest standards of safety and privacy which will be enhanced by more modern use of data."